Fushimi Inari and Nara’s Very Hungry Deer

Day 4 in Japan saw us heading South from Kyoto to Nara, stopping by at Fushimi Inari Shrine on the way. We took the JR Nara line local train, as the rapid train bypasses Inari Station.

When we got to Inari Station, all we had to do was follow the stream of tourists across the road to the large red Torii gate leading to the shrine.

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Foxes are seen as messengers of the god Inari, so fox statues were a common sight in the shrine.

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It was easy to see why both tourists and locals flock to the shrine. There were lots to see amidst the colourful buildings and vibrant grounds.

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We also saw offers of 1000 paper cranes left by people hoping to have their wishes granted as well as some interesting charms – including draw-your-own-face fox charms, which inspired some creativity!

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But of course the shrine’s main attraction was the amazing row of Torii gates winding around the mountain.

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We only walked for about 20 mins before turning back, but you can actually trek all the way up to the top of the mountain, which takes about 2-3 hours.

We made our way back to Inari station to continue our journey on to Nara. To save some time, we took the local to Rokujizo station and then caught the next rapid train. The rapid also stops at Uji, which is famous for its tea and for Byodo-In (the temple on the 10 yen coin).

With a map, Nara was quite easy to navigate. It was pretty much a straight walk down the street to get to Naramachi. Along the way we stopped at this unassuming shop which sold a wide variety of snacks.

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We couldn’t read any of the Japanese on the packaging, so we just bought what we thought looked interesting including some pretty looking jellies. Contrary to appearance though, they were dense almost like Turkish delight, and didn’t taste of anything except sugar.

For lunch, we stopped by at a Tripadvisor recommended restaurant called Edogawa Naramachi, which was well known for its eel dishes.

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It was traditional seating inside, which added to the authenticity of the experience, and they had an English menu, which was helpful. I ordered the mini eel set, which came with grilled eel on rice, pickles, soup, salad, an eel egg roll, seafood chawan mushi and dessert.

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My sister ordered the tempura set as she didn’t eat eel, which came with similar side dishes as well as sashimi and stewed vegetables instead of salad.

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We also ordered the Yamashita pork belly which, yes, tasted as good as it looked!

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The eel was not as good as I’d hoped, but overall the food was pretty tasty and the service was excellent. I’d come back just for the pork belly.

After lunch, we headed for Todaiji, which was a leisurely 40 minutes’ stroll away. On the way we stopped by Kofukuji to admire its five storey pagoda, and that was also the beginning of our deer sighting.

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Deer are regarded as messengers of the Shinto gods so they’re respected by the locals and allowed to do as they please. There were deer literally everywhere and as the warning signs suggest, they can get pretty aggressive, especially if they think that you’re carrying food.

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One thing we noticed about Japan was the lack of rubbish bins. We found out later from our friendly Mt Fuji tourist guide that this was because garbage collection was expensive in Japan, so people were encouraged to take their litter home with them. This would never work in any other country!

Luckily there was a conveniently located tourist centre on the way to Todaiji where we could dispose of our rubbish, go for a toilet break and help ourselves to free iced tea and coffee.

The path leading to the Todaiji’s entrance was crowded with both deer and tourists.

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We entered through the large Nandaimon gates, which housed two very impressive statues of the gate guardians.

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We headed for the Great Buddha Hall, which was a magnificent building with small yellow horns rising from the top of the roof. Inside was the Daibutsu (one of Japan’s largest bronze statues of Buddha) and several models of the historical progression of the temple’s buildings.

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We did see someone attempt to crawl through the hole in the pillar that was meant to be the same size as the Daibutsu’s nostril, but I could only manage a very shaky shot which turned out kind of creepy…

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Afterwards we meandered through an almost deserted Nara park, which was a pleasant change to the tourist-crowded temple. Here we gave away some of our overly sweet jelly to some very hungry deer. They seemed willing to eat anything!

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We then walked back to Nara station and caught the train back to Kyoto station. On the big staircase leading up to the 11th floor restaurants were illuminations of famous Kyoto spots in Spring.

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Unfortunately Katsukura was closed for renovations so we decided to visit the Isetan food basement for dinner, where we purchased some tempura, a pretty-looking, but average-tasting bento and honey sesame chicken wings. On our way, we discovered a new-found love, Mister Donuts. We bought a five donut pack – they were so light and fluffy.

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In the next post we head to South Higashiyama and revisit Kiyomizudera.

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